I am often asked by people who know that I have suffered a loss, what they can do to help a friend or relative who is grieving. When someone is grieving it can be difficult to know what to do or say. Here are are few things that may be helpful:
1. Do not say that you understand or compare your experiences unless you have been in nearly the exact same situation. Losing a child is different than losing a parent. Losing a parent is different than losing a sibling and losing a sibling is different than losing a friend and every one of these situations is different than losing a pet. It is hard not to offer a story of your own but try to honor the person’s feelings just by listening to what they need to say.
2. Try to make life easier. The early stages of grief are extremely draining. I remember the first time I had to write a check after we lost Hadley. I spent 20 minutes trying to remember how to fill out the blank lines in front of me. If there is anything you can do to help with daily tasks offer your assistance, but be specific. For example, call when you are heading to the dry cleaners to see if they need anything dropped off or see if you can pick up an extra gallon of milk when you head to the store.
3. Don’t give up. Many people do not want to talk to anyone for days or months after experiencing a loss. Call or email, let them know you are here when they are really or need to talk and then do not be offended when you don’t hear back. Instead, try again in a few weeks or so. It is hard not to feel shunned but grieving is a difficult process and many need to work through the intense feelings on their own. Sooner or later they will need you again just give them time and keep checking in.
4. Keep them in mind during holidays or special days. There is no end to grief. Even years down the road, holidays and anniversaries of certain dates can be very difficult. If you see your grieving friend often and they seem to be doing well but still decline your invite for a Christmas Eve get together try to be understanding. There may always be times that are too difficult for them to socialize.
5. Remember with them. So often people are afraid to bring up Hadley’s name or will mention that I had four children instead of five and I think they feel they are protecting me by doing this. In reality, there is not a loss mom I have spoken to who does not want to talk about her children and have them included in the grandkid count, special occasions and general conversation. Talking about a person who has passed is a great way to honor their memory.
6. Approach religious topics carefully. Even the most religious people can have their faith challenged after experiencing a loss. Be careful when using your own faith/beliefs to comfort someone. Saying things like “God wanted it this way” or “she is in a better place” may make a grieving person feel worse. Try to be aware of the role religion is taking in their grieving process and follow their lead rather than interjecting your own beliefs.
7. Do not give grief a timeline. There is no set time frame for when a grieving person should be ready to work, socialize or get back to their exercise routine. For many, profound grief lasts for years and ultimately, the pain will become less intense but never goes away. Telling someone that they need to get back to work or should be feeling better by now will only make them feel guilty and misunderstood. Meet them where they are at in the process. If they are not ready for a night out with the girls, go out for a coffee or schedule a night in with a bottle of wine.
8. Be patient. I will be the first one to tell you that I am not the best daughter, sister or friend one could have. I don’t attend the family events I used to, I cancel play dates too often and sometimes don’t have the mental energy to support someone else the way they need to be supported. Try to be patient with someone who is grieving. Keep in mind that they are doing the best they can and even if it has been years since their loss, life is never going to be the same.
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